Spring readies core for next year

With 14 freshmen signed, a tough spring schedule is preparing the rest of the team.

Emily Wickstrom

Just as Minnesota soccer coach Mikki Denney Wright got her team to buy into her philosophy of coaching and working as a team, she will have to do it all over again.

The second-year coach has recruited 14 incoming freshmen for next season, who will make up approximately half of the roster.

Coming off an 8-10 season in which the Gophers finished 2-8 in the Big Ten, Denney Wright expects improvement next year.

Until those freshmen show up in August, Minnesota players said spring games and practices have been very valuable in helping them prepare for that ascension.

The Gophers have played four games this spring, host the Alumni Game on Saturday and will host the first Gopher Spring Classic on April 23-24. Denney Wright said the team is trying to play the best competition it can in preparation for next season.

Senior goalkeeper Molly Schneider said, “We’ll bring in a lot of new players, but when it comes down to it, these are going to be a lot of our core starters next year. We work on everything as a team, so coming in (to fall), we’ll have a good solid foundation when the freshmen come.”

Denney Wright said her most improved player has been senior Becky Dellaria, a two-year starter who was tied for the team’s highest point total last year.

“There’s no question that she’s now our leading attacker,” Denney Wright said. “It’s just exciting to see a kid who’s been here for three years make such a huge jump in her game.”

Along with Dellaria’s improvements, the Gophers figure to add depth to their lineup with the return of many players from the slew of injuries they had last season.

Sophomores Allison Kempainen and Megan Fightmaster missed five and 14 games, respectively, last season because of injuries. But Denney Wright said they will enter the 2005 season as two of Minnesota’s better players.

Still, the freshman class will have a lot to say about how the team does.

Minnesota struggled to score last year, finishing second to last in the Big Ten with an average of 0.94 goals a game.

Denney Wright said the coaching staff has focused on bringing in the top players from Minnesota, including 2004 Ms. Soccer award recipient Elena Fruci. Many of these players will have opportunities to make immediate impacts on the team.

And current Minnesota players said they feel the incoming recruits will help turn their offense from a weakness to a strength.

“I feel like a lot of time in the past, we walk on the field hoping not to get scored on rather than walking on and saying, ‘Hey we’re going to score,’ ” Dellaria said. “This fall, there’s going to be so many new girls who don’t have that attitude. They’re coming in like, ‘We’re going to score,’ and expecting that.”

Regardless of how much the freshman class helps in 2005, Denney Wright said she feels her team is on its way to success.

“I want this team to be at the top of the Big Ten, and I don’t think I’ll ever be satisfied until we’re there,” Denney Wright said. “But it’s a process.”